Social security uses public funds to provide a degree of economic security for the public as a whole. In the United States, both employers and employees are required to pay social security taxes. The money raised from these taxes provides financial benefits for those who have reached retirement age, or are otherwise eligible to receive such funds. This is done so that when everyone retires, they will have some type of funds to keep the economy flowing.

Social security can also refer to a government program intended to provide financial support for the disabled. Over the course of your working life, you will pay a certain percentage of your income to the government through social security taxes. Once you retire or become disabled, the government sends you monthly payments based on how much you paid in social security taxes during your working years.

Social security benefits, then, are the actual monetary benefits received by retired workers. Once they are qualified to receive these benefits, social security benefits are paid out on a monthly basis to retired workers and their surviving spouses. Social security benefits are also paid out to eligible disabled individuals. Examples of the different types of social security benefits include:

  • Retirement Benefits: If you retire after the age of 62, you are entitled to retirement benefits. The amount of money you receive is based on the amount of income you made over the course of your working life. As such, the later you file for retirement benefits, the larger they will be. However, this only accumulates up until the age of 70;
  • Disability Benefits: If you are disabled before you retire, you may be eligible for disability benefits. These benefits are generally roughly equal to what your retirement benefits would have been, had you been able to continue working until retirement age;
  • Supplemental Security Income: Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits are available to those who did not earn a lot of income over the course of their working lives, but are still in need of financial assistance. SSI is only available to those who are over the age of 65, or are disabled or blind; and
  • Survivor’s Benefits: If your spouse is deceased and would have otherwise been entitled to retirement or disability benefits, you may be able to receive the benefits on the deceased’s behalf. Surviving Child Benefits are also available for the biological child, adopted child, or step-child upon the death of their parent.

What Are Dependent Benefits For Social Security Purposes?

Under specific circumstances, the dependent of a social security benefits recipient may also qualify for benefits on behalf of the wage earner. Generally speaking, dependent benefits take the form of monthly payments that are issued to the child, if the wage earner decides to take their social security retirement checks earlier. Social security benefits may also be available to dependents of a person who has died. These are known as “survivor benefits,” as previously mentioned, and have a different set of requirements.

To further expand on survivor’s benefits, if you are insured at the time of your death, certain members of your family can be eligible to receive all or a portion of your Social Security benefits. In general, the following family members could be eligible to receive survivor benefits:

  • Surviving spouses;
  • Minor and/or disabled children;
  • Parents who were dependent on the decedent’s financial support to survive; and/or
  • A stepchild, grandchild, step grandchild, or adopted child, under specific circumstances.

The amount of benefits that a dependent may receive on behalf of their parent will depend on many factors. The main factor that will be considered is the amount of social security taxes that the parent has been paying prior. Additionally, the parent’s own social security payments will not be decreased if their dependents are receiving payments as well.

Who Is Considered To Be a Dependent? Which Dependents Are Eligible For Social Security Benefits?

As previously mentioned, in terms of social security insurance purposes, a “dependent” is usually the insured’s child. This child may be biological, adopted, or a stepchild. In some cases, a dependent grandchild of the insured may also qualify to receive benefits. However, all of these types of relationships must be legally enforceable in order to list the child as a dependent for social security benefit purposes.

Under specific circumstances, spouses or even divorced spouses of the insured are referred to as “dependents.” However, it is important to note that these designations will have their own separate requirements for social security benefits. A government attorney can help you understand what those requirements may be.

In order to be eligible to receive social security benefits, the insured person’s dependents must be:

  • Unmarried, and under the age of eighteen; or
  • 18 or 19 years old, and a full time grade-school student, meaning no higher than 12th grade; or
  • 18 years or older, and disabled from a disability. The disability must have started before the age of 22 years old.

Dependent benefits for social security purposes will generally cease once the child reaches the age of 18. For dependents who are claiming benefits under the “student” category, their benefits will cease once they graduate high school, or two months after they turn 19, whichever is sooner.

A child will receive roughly 75% of the deceased parent’s Social Security benefits. However, within a family, the maximum monthly family disbursement cannot exceed 150 to 180% of the deceased parent’s benefit. If the payment to the family does exceed this limit, each family member’s benefit is reduced proportionally to fit the limit.

What Is the Process For Applying For Social Security Benefits?

It is important to note that you cannot apply for survivor benefits online; you must do so either by telephone, or in person. You will need to provide proof of the insured’s death, which is usually handled by the funeral home. If you want the funeral home to report the death to the Social Security Administration for you, you will need to provide the funeral home with the decedent’s Social Security Number.

Once you have scheduled an appointment with the Social Security Administration, you should bring the following information:

  • Your birth certificate;
  • Marriage certificate or divorce certificate;
  • Divorce certificate, if you are the divorced widow or widower;
  • The birth certificate and Social Security number of the decedent’s child or children; and
  • The most recent W-2 forms of the deceased worker.

The type of documents that you will need to provide depend on the type of relationship you had with the deceased. As such, you should be prepared to bring any documents that would establish a qualifying relationship.

In terms of surviving child benefits, the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) requires that you provide the following:

  • The child’s birth certificate;
  • The deceased parent’s social security number;
  • Proof of the parent’s death;
  • Affidavits from other family members to further prove the qualifying relationship;
  • The decedent’s medical records, when necessary;
  • The decedent’s tax records, when necessary; and
  • Evidence of child support, when necessary.

Do I Need an Attorney For Assistance With Social Security Benefits For Dependents?

As you can see, acquiring social security benefits for dependents can be quite complex with many different sets of criteria that may need to be met. Working with an experienced and local government attorney can help you better understand the process and what you will need to provide in order to receive benefits as a dependent.

Additionally, state laws may vary in terms of who qualifies as a dependent. An experienced and local government attorney will be best suited to evaluating your case. An attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed, should any issues arise.